# Power System Harmonics

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1 Pacific Gas and Electric Company Power System Harmonics What are power system harmonics? Ideally, voltage and current waveforms are perfect sinusoids. However, because of the increased popularity of electronic and other non-linear loads, these waveforms quite often become distorted. This deviation from a perfect sine wave can be represented by harmonics sinusoidal components having a frequency that is an integral multiple of the fundamental frequency (see Figure 1). Thus, a pure voltage or current sine wave has no distortion and no harmonics, and a nonsinusoidal wave has distortion and harmonics. To quantify the distortion, the term total harmonic distortion (THD) is used. The term expresses the distortion as a percentage of the fundamental (pure sine) of voltage and current waveforms. Distorted waveform (60 Hz = Fundamental + 3rd Harmonic) Fundamental (60 Hz) 3rd Harmonic (180 Hz) Figure 1: Distorted Waveform Composed of Fundamental and 3 rd Harmonic. THD approximately 30% Why are voltage and current harmonics a problem? Current harmonics are a problem because they cause increased losses in the customer and utility power system components. Transformers are especially sensitive to this problem and may need to be derated to as much as 50% capacity when feeding loads with extremely distorted current waveforms (current total harmonic distortion above 100%). 1

4 What is crest factor? The crest factor of any waveform is the ratio of the peak value to the RMS value. 4 In a perfect sine wave, the crest factor is Crest factors different than indicate distortion in the waveform. Typically distorted current waveforms have crest factors higher than (see Figure 3), and distorted voltage waveforms have crest factors lower than Distorted voltage waveforms with crest factors lower than are called flat top voltage waveforms. Figure 3. Typical current waveform for a single-phase non-linear load with a switched-mode power supply. This kind of waveform is characterized by high crest factors, usually between 2.2 and 3.0 The Computer and Business Equipment Manufacturers Association (CBEMA) recommends a method for derating transformers based on the current crest factor. CBEMA defines the transformer harmonic-derating factor (THDF) as the ratio of to the transformer current crest factor. The derated KVA of the transformer would be the nominal KVA of the transformer multiplied by the THDF. This method, however, should only be applied when the distortion in the current is caused by single-phase, non-linear loads (like personal computers) and other office equipment. Also, when using this method, the crest factor measurements should always be made in the secondary of the transformer. A more complete method for transformer derating is the one described by ANSI/IEEE C What kind of equipment is needed to measure distorted waveforms? A digital oscilloscope is needed to measure the wave shape, THD and amplitude of each harmonic. However, if we simply want to measure the RMS value of the waveform, a True-RMS multimeter will suffice. The term True-RMS is used because not all instruments give correct readings when measuring distorted waveforms. The majority of low-cost portable instruments are average responding-rms calibrated. These instruments give correct readings for distortion-free sine waves and will typically read low when the current waveform is distorted. Most portable instruments with true RMS capabilities are labeled or listed as such in their owner manuals. 4 Typically when we measure voltage and current, we are measuring RMS values. 4

5 Does having harmonics in the power system always mean trouble? Harmonics only mean trouble if the power system is not designed to handle them. High harmonic neutral currents are a problem only if the neutral is not properly sized. Current harmonics are not a problem to a transformer if it is derated appropriately. Even some voltage distortion below 8% THD at the point of utilization) is acceptable as long as sensitive equipment is not affected. However, it is always important to be aware of the presence of harmonics and to try to minimize them by purchasing low distortion electronic ballasts and reactors for PWM ASDs. This will not only keep the harmonics in check and improve the power factor in the facility, but will also save energy by reducing losses on power system components. In addition, any time there is a considerable increase of non-linear loads, it is important to check power system components to prevent problems. Revised: January

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